As the deadline to be vaccinated or go on unpaid leave looms for New York City’s workers, a massive crowd of thousands marched in protest against the mandate on Monday, Oct. 25. Among the demonstrators were employees from the Fire Department of New York, the Sanitation Department of New York, Emergency Medical Services, and the New York Police Department. The group walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and ended in front of City Hall.
There are nearly 50,000 city employees who have yet to be vaccinated, and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that only the inoculated can work; no longer will negative COVID test results be allowed. “It’s a mandate now for all city agencies, all city workers,” he said. “It’s time for everyone to get vaccinated. Our public employees are going to lead us out of the COVID era.” The mayor continued:
“So we say vaccinate. If you choose not to, you have the right to go on unpaid leave. We’re going to work with your union to figure out what happens next. But the bottom line is we’re not going to pay people unless they’re vaccinated.”
De Blasio is offering an extra $500 incentive for workers to get their vaccination, estimated to cost the city $23 million. This has not gone over well with unions, which have started making demands that employees who were already immunized receive the bonus as well.
Mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa, who was at the protest, said he is against the mandates and that COVID testing should be allowed for those who can’t or won’t get the vaccine. He told Eyewitness News:
“I think especially these draconian measures that all civil servants have to be vaccinated or they get fired, we already don’t have enough cops, we don’t have enough correction officers, we don’t have enough health care workers, we don’t have enough teachers. So, who’s getting hurt by all of [this], obviously, students, citizens, people who need services. Stop this nonsense, and the mandate.”
The march comes just a day after demonstrators disrupted the Brooklyn Nets home opener. The NBA team’s guard, Kyrie Irving, was not allowed to play because he refused to get vaccinated. Fans gathered outside Barclays Center and congregated in the plaza outside the arena, chanting “Let Kyrie Play!” and holding signs that read “Stand with Kyrie.” Some of the protesters were able to break through the barriers and get to the front entrance, which caused officials to briefly close the doors to the public.
“He’s doing something that [Colin] Kaepernick did,” one protester said. “He’s basically doing the same thing, he’s like taking a knee and I’m happy that he did that – you understand?” Curtis Orwell, another protester, said they were fighting for “bodily autonomy and sovereignty” and the right to choose what goes into their bodies. He added, “We also know so much more than we knew 18 months ago about the virus. We have therapeutics that have been tried and proven to great success. Unfortunately, those kinds of voices are being totally suppressed and censored.”
Roughly 160,000 New York public workers have yet to be vaccinated, and city departments are trying to prepare for staffing shortages. City employees – and athletes who play in public venues in NYC – have until Oct. 29 to get the jab or lose their job.
~ Read more from Kelli Ballard.